On October 6, 2003, three days before his scheduled execution by lethal injection, an inmate at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Alabama Department of Corrections in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. The plaintiff alleged that his constitutional rights were threatened by the defendant's use of the "cut-down" procedure, which required an incision into his arm or leg to assess his veins (which had been severely compromised due to years of intravenous drug use) in anticipation of the lethal injection. The plaintiff argued that the use of the procedure constituted deliberate indifference to his medical needs because it would "create risks of complications, be inhumane, conflict with evolving standards of decency, and entail unnecessary mental and physical pain and suffering." He sought a permanent injunction against the procedure, as well as a temporary stay of his execution so that the court could consider the merits of his petition for the injunction.
On October 7, 2007, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama (Judge Myron H. Thompson) granted the defendant's motion to dismiss the claim, holding that the Section 1983 claim was functionally equivalent to the plaintiff's earlier habeas corpus claim, which had been denied by the court. Nelson v. Campbell, 286 F.Supp.2d 1321 (M.D.Ala. 2003). The plaintiff appealed.
On October 8, 2003, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (Judge Robert Lanier Anderson III) affirmed the District Court's decision, holding that the prisoner's Section 1983 claim was the functional equivalent of the previously denied habeas corpus claim, and that the prisoner had not been denied access to his physician in violation of Alabama law. Nelson v. Campbell, 347 F.3d 910 (11th Cir. 2003). On October 9, 2003, the plaintiff's request for a rehearing en banc was denied. Nelson v. Campbell, No. 03-15095, 85 Fed.Appx. 728 (11th Cir. 2003). The plaintiff sought Supreme Court review.
On October 9, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of execution of sentence of death pending their decision on whether to grant certiorari. Nelson v. Campbell, 540 U.S. 942 (2003). On December 1, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari on the limited question of whether a complaint brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by a death-sentenced prisoner, who seeks to stay his execution in order to pursue a challenge to the procedures for carrying out the execution may be properly recharacterized as a habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S. 2254. Nelson v. Campbell, 540 U.S. 1046 (2003).
On May 24, 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court (Justice O'Connor) reversed and remanded the case back to the Eleventh Circuit, holding that Section 1983 was an appropriate vehicle for a prisoner to challenge the "cut-down" procedure, and that the prisoner's request for temporary stay of execution did not transform his conditions of confinement claim into a challenge to the validity of his death sentence sounding in habeas corpus. Nelson v. Campbell, 541 U.S. 637 (2004). On July 20, 2004, the Eleventh Circuit remanded the case back to the District Court for proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court opinion. Nelson v. Campbell, 377 F.3d 1162 (11th Cir. 2004).
On October 7, 2004, the District Court (Judge Thompson) entered an order that the defendants should not use the "cut-down" procedure on the plaintiff, but rather that they must use either a peripheral-venous-access procedure or a peripheral-central-venous-access procedure on him. The plaintiff had asked for these procedures because he believed that they would be "less invasive, less painful, faster, cheaper, and safer than the cut-down procedure," as well as being humane and not in violation of the plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights. The defendants agreed to utilize one of these methods if it became necessary to obtain a central line on the plaintiff, so the order was based on their consent.
On October 29, 2004, the defendants asked the court for summary judgment in light of that substantial agreement. On October 22, 2005, the plaintiff filed his second amended complaint, alleging that there were still material facts at issue in the case. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that if the agreed-upon central line placement procedure was not performed by a qualified physician in an appropriate medical environment, his Eighth Amendment rights would still be violated. He asked the court to direct the defendants to consult with medical experts and promulgate a protocol concerning venous access that comports with contemporary standards of medical care and the Eighth Amendment. On June 15, 2006, the court designated Dr. Warren Bagley, M.D. to be the court's independent medical expert, and on July 28, 2006, the court ordered Dr. Bagley to assist the court in understanding the outstanding issues of fact in the case.
On September 26, 2006, the District Court denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment, holding that there were still facts at issue in the case, and stating that the court would reconsider the motion for summary judgment after Dr. Bagley had submitted his report.
On November 15, 2006, the defendants again asked the court for summary judgment in light of the fact that, in the opinion of Dr. Bagley, access to the plaintiff's central veins would not be necessary, since there were three locations on the plaintiff's body where peripheral veins could be easily accessed, and that a it would not be necessary to obtain a highly trained specialist to access those veins. The defendants argued that this made the plaintiff's complaint moot, leaving no genuine issues of material fact in the case.
On March 31, 2008, the District Court denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment, holding that the United States Supreme Court's decision in Baze v. Rees could inform the decision in the case at bar. Accordingly, the court denied the motion for summary judgment with leave to renew within 30 days of the Baze decision.
On May 15, 2008, the defendants renewed their motion for summary judgment because the United States Supreme Court had handed down its decision in Baze v. Rees. The defendants' motion argued that the Court's decision in Baze supported their contention that the execution protocol used in Alabama was constitutional. Specifically the Defendants argued that "the Supreme Court's recent decision in Baze applies to Alabama's execution protocol because it is substantially similar to Kentucky's," which was upheld by the Court.
On July 21, 2008, the plaintiff filled his response to the defendants' renewed motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff's main argument is that Baze does not support the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff's make clear that the Supreme Court held that "when a condemned establishes that his execution will involve a "substantial risk of serious harm" or an "objectively intolerable risk of harm..." based on how it is to
be carried out. Accordingly, the plaintiff argued that the defendants' execution protocol is unconstitutional because it would subject him to an unconstitutional level of pain. Specifically, the plaintiff insisted that "the administration of the protocol to the Plaintiff will result in a substantial and objectively intolerable risk of serious harm due to the Plaintiff's medical condition and severely compromised peripheral veins."
On December 9, 2009, the court denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment as moot. The court recognized that the motion had become moot because of the death of the plaintiff. Alabama news sources reported that the plaintiff died of natural causes on November 3, 2009.Justin Benson - 01/20/2012